Friday, 11 March 2016

Inspiring stories

Johnny Friday asked me recently why I’m working on the 1879 Pacific War, and I wrote a short response. You can find it in the comments to this blog. What inspires us to wargame a particular period is a question often asked. The answer, alas, is too often “I saw this great range of figures”.

Even in my case (step forward all of you Sumerians).

Some of the armies arise out of serendipity, - some out of being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes it is seeing a range of figures that answer a previously deeply held interest.

For my oldest active army the answer is all a bit mixed up. These are my War of Spanish Succession British, which I initially painted in my first year at University. In a two week period during a vacation, if I remember rightly.

I‘d had an interest in Marlborough for a few years. I mean, as a British wargamer you’re always aware of Marlborough, in the same way that Wellington can be a major obsession. I remember reading an article by Don Featherstone where he wrote about the only way to wargame the period was at a figure scale that enabled you to simulate platoon fire, which all seemed to be a bit too much like hard work to me, so I never pursued the matter.

My school library had all the four volumes of Churchill’s epic biography of the Great Man, and I took them all out at the end of one term in anticipation of us studying the period in History the following term. We’d just finished doing the Stuart period up to the end of James II and accession of William & Mary and I wanted to be ready for where we were obviously going next. As it turned out we never did go there, but diverted into 19th Century Economic & Social history instead. Mortified I never finished reading them (never started? – I can’t recall) and moved on. Corporal John was still there, however.

At the time – late 70’s – I was doing a lot of fantasy wargaming, all Lord of the Rings stuff – and not really doing any new historical bits and pieces except adding the odd Matchbox tank to my WW2 armies. At Uni I discovered that no one was doing fantasy wargaming, and had in fact moved on from such things. All the D&Ders had also moved on and colonised the Tolkein Society, who found RPGs easier than conversing in Elvish. So I was left out on a limb a bit.

At the time Pete Berry (yes, he of Baccus 6mm) was a graduate member of the University Wargames Society and was working through an unhealthy obsession with Charles XII of Sweden, following his reading of Ragnhild Hatton’s biography of the Swedish Monarch. He may even have been responsible for the graffito “Remember Poltava” on the wall of the SU gents.

Pete had a Swedish army based upon 30mm Spencer Smith plastics. He really wanted someone to play against and everyone treated it as a bit of a joke. Pete tried to talk me into doing a Russian Peter the Great army but I said no (I wonder if that would have been more interesting…) but convinced him that it would be okay if I provided him with another contemporary opponent. That gave me the excuse to finally put the Marlburian Army together.

The army is made up of Airfix Washington’s Army and French Cuirassiers (sorry, Waterloo French Cavalry) with hat swaps and Waterloo French Artillery, likewise re-hatted. Given that I did them over 30 years ago the Bostick is holding up really well.

So I suppose you could say that Pete was the inspiration, although he was pushing at an open door.
On the other hand you might also say it arose out of a desperate sense of insecurity and a desire to fit in with new found friends. Whichever it was, I don’t regret putting the army together and I can’t see ever replacing the figures. They’ve been repainted and varnished properly since their first paint job, and rebased as well. They are now joined by contemporary Frenchies, also made out of Airfix WA. I suspect that Pete no longer has his Swedes, but has replaced them with 6mm figures of his own design, and he almost certainly doesn’t use the old WRG 1685+ rules we used at the time, as there’s a Polemos set for period, I think. Plus painting guides and so on. Pete does a job properly when he puts his mind to it.

As readers will know the little fellows get pulled out from time to time and I know that I should probably add a few more battalions. However I haven’t seen any WA boxes around of late, and I’m loath to mix in more modern figures as I think it will ruin the look of the army, - and also show up the original castings. The cavalry in particular are really anonymous looking, which was what made them so good for conversions. I think I’d also be right in thinking that the modern figures will probably be a bit larger.

I don’t know if this is an inspiring story, but it is a story about inspiration.


  1. And also an interesting story. I, for one, enjoy learning the background of fellow wargamers' forays into various periods and projects. In my own view, it's simply one more interesting facet of the hobby as much as researching uniforms or working out the most efficient way of painting that next batch of 100 figures.

    Best Regards,


    1. Well, you're in luck. I think this may become an occasional series.

  2. I always seemed to find new periods by getting into a game at one of the US conventions - Historicon, most often. There I discovered Cross Fire WWII and later), Chassepot and Needlegun (Franco-Prussian War), Patrols In The Sudan (Brits vs the Mahdi), Check Your 6 (air War) and SeeKreig IV and V (Naval).

    1. Playing is always a good way of getting interested, - especially for something by RFCM. I got into AK47 Republic at a game run by Martin ant CoW.

  3. Excellent bit of background!
    Thank you!